Appropriately, this past Saturday saw the release of YouTube confection Rebecca Black’s latest single/video, “Saturday.” The song is a follow-up to the viral sensation “Friday,” a video 61 million people hate-watched into a phenomenon. “Saturday” presents a clear evolution for Black; gone is the fun loving, Disney-inspired pop princess, replaced by a too-cool-for-school Los Angeleno hungry for debauchery and running on the beach at dawn, as if life were a Levi’s Jeans commercial.
With “Saturday,” the singer kneels before the throne of Miley Cyrus, conforming to the best of her abilities. Black’s squeaky clean persona won’t allow her to be a partyaholic sex icon. She’s 16 years old, her music is over-processed, and frankly, she comes off as a nice girl. Black ain’t Miley. But like many other tween stars vying for a permanent position in the spotlight of legitimacy, that’s what she believes it takes to win over naysayers. Black can’t be blamed for trying (and, frankly, her new tune isn’t as grating on the ears as the last one). The real issue with the latest from Rebecca Black and the new wave of Miley clones is bigger picture: If this is the way young people party, or an aspiration to what the 21st century, alcohol-fueled dance rave should be, the future is doomed.
The line between smart partying and moronic partying is thin. As suggested by “Saturday,” red solo cups filled with whoknowswhat (but it’s definitely not liquor because she is 16, right!?) are and will forever be a staple. There should be loud music. There should be dancing. There should be hook-ups. It should last until dawn (or at least feel like it did). But throughout Black’s latest single, the party scene aches to take the leap into Miley territory, where blitzed assholes jump up and down in a pool with all their clothes on, dance around pretending to have giant neon penises, and butt hump stuffed animals because it, hey, it makes them giggle! That’s what fun is! At least according to “We Can’t Stop.”
This is ironic partying, the impersonal worst-case-scenario that’s about losing one’s mind, weaponizing sexuality, and destroying the world around them. It’s about selfies, not corner conversations with random strangers. It’s about dancing alone in slow motion in the middle of ogling nobodies, not the joy of the perfect pop hit inciting everyone to throw caution to the wind, move their bodies, and sing along. Black’s “Saturday” is the chaste version of this – that typical, harsh camera flash lighting illuminates blow up dolls, poker playing, and a smokey haze, not full-on clouds of lit up weed. But it desires to go further, even when it thinks it’s poking fun at The Book of Miley (there’s actually a stand-in for the pop star at one point).
If the scrutiny sounds like a “kids these days” routine, let’s map out the escalation. Here’s a clip from 1990’s House Party, known then as a crazy party movie franchise.
Nearly ten years later, you have 10 Things I Hate About You, another fantasy party scenario that any teenager would dream of living out. There’s drinking, there’s dancing, there’s a smoke-filled atmosphere, and shockingly, people are talking to one another.
Jump ahead to 2012 and we have Project X, which, in its trailer, attributes the superlative “Best Party Movie Ever” to an unnamed viewer. At this high school house party, people jump off roofs into pools, stir up a dance floor orgies, and summon the gods of bacchanalia on front lawn bonfires. They also all gobble up the ecstasy pills that tumble out of a lawn gnome. Just a wee bit different. (And, hey, don’t the kids call it Molly these days anyway?)
Yes, movies like Project X are fiction. Videos like “We Can’t Stop” are a fantasy refraction of the Hollywood lifestyle. But they do provoke young people who want to live that dream. Last year in Miami, a group of teenagers threw a Project X-inspired party at a foreclosed home. 2,000 were scheduled to arrive before the police preemptively intervened.
As music video stars push themselves to be edgy, partying will lose this edge. Consider this year’s Spring Breakers, a scathing commentary on the issue. For the four leads, partying was an addiction. Each hit had to be bigger and badder and each indulgence put them further back in their own heads, shells of their former selves. They even had their pop icon leading the way: James Franco’s rapper character Alien. Despite this satire, costar Vanessa Hudgens managed to undermine the film to her tween fans, cashing in the party imagery for her dubstep music video “$$$ex.”
Black follows Cyrus’ mantra (“It’s our party we can do what we want”) with her own: “This Saturday we’re gonna do it bigger than we ever have before.” With it, she paves the road to individualism, party environments unsafe for personal connections. It’s hard to picture beer pong and mosh pits as wholesome and positive, but compared to the Miley Era, they’re the fraternity equivalent of a high school dance. “Saturday” is the harbinger of party culture’s demise, a landscape now unfit for expressions of friendship, sexuality, and romance.
Matt Patches is a writer and reporter living in New York City. His work has been featured on Vulture, Grantland, and The Hollywood Reporter. He is the host of the pop culture podcast Fighting in the War Room.